Everything You Need to Know About Bay Area Amusement Parks - 510 Families
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Everything You Need to Know About Bay Area Amusement Parks

The first thing you need to know about amusement parks in the Bay Area is that they come in all shapes and sizes. From Six Flags in Vallejo to Happy Hollow in San Jose, which is primarily a Zoo, there are some really cool places that are worth the drive. The {510} Families team has done the hard work of visiting all of the Bay Area’s amusement parks with a focus on young children and East Bay Families.

Bay Area Amusement Parks

Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, Vallejo

Six Flags Discovery Kingdom wave swinger
Vallejo’s Six Flags Discovery Kingdom wave swinger | Photo: Six Flags Discovery Kingdom

Description: Huge amusement park for thrill-seekers and big kids with rides, games, and animals. Six Flags is quite large in acreage. 36″ is the magic height ride that allows little ones to ride a number of kiddie rides alone and some of the bigger rides with an adult. A water oasis sprayground area near a climbing area offers the excitement of play without the scariness of speed for smaller people.

  • Our review of Six Flags Discovery Kingdom.
  • Their website to check current hours and rates. Open Fri-Sun beginning May 17, then daily for summer hours from Memorial Day until August 11, then closed Sat & Sun only.

Best ages: There’s plenty to do for every age. Tweens will love roller coasters and navigating by themselves; preschoolers will love the low-thrill rides and animal exhibits.
Prices: $40 per person over 2 years old; $45 to park in the general lot; $50 to park in the closer lot
NOTE: An annual pass to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo also works for Hurricane Harbor. For just over $100 per person, you get unlimited visits to both parks, and parking is included, so if you go to each park once, it’s worth it.
Food situation: No outside food; numerous snack bars; ample shade structures and tables for eating. Pre-pay for food packages for savings.
Location: Vallejo

Children’s Fairyland, Oakland

Start your visit at Old Town and head against the flow of traffic. | Photo: Julia Gidwani

Description: Children’s Fairyland is an Oakland institution. It is more about a vibe than the rides, though there are indeed rides. The rides are small-scale, designed for young children, and none are adrenaline-oriented. In addition to rides (all included in the price of admission), there are many features and experiences to explore, daily performances, and a few animals.

  • Our full description of Children’s Fairyland >
  • Their website to check current hours and rates. Open Wednesday through Sunday until Memorial Day and then daily for summer hours until mid-August, then closed Mon-Tues again.

Best ages: Toddlers through about age 7.
Prices: $19 for adults; $17 for children over age 1; Annual memberships also available. Expect to pay between $5 and $10 for parking depending on use of the closest lot or nearby street parking.
Food situation: You may bring food inside the park; a snack bar with legit healthy food is available; tables for picnics.
Location: Oakland

Pixieland Amusement Park, Concord

pixieland child driving
Pixieland Windy Grove Cars | Photo: William Munny

Description: Pixieland is what it sounds like, a tiny collection of small-scale rides. There’s not much atmosphere; it’s just a collection of cute rides for young children in a semi-enclosed outdoor area. My favorite is the train ride because it actually leaves Pixieland and covers some ground around a larger green area. Since Pixieland is an admission-free park (just buy tickets for the rides), you won’t spend money on extra adults who don’t ride anything.

  • Our full description of Pixieland >
  • Their website to check current hours and rates. Open weekends only and some holidays, such as Labor Day.

Best ages: Toddlers through about age 6.
Prices: A 30-pack of ride tickets is $65. That is enough to allow a child and an adult to ride each ride once. For $26, you can get 10 tickets which will cover the train ride for two, the carousel for two, and the car ride for two. For a child young enough to be interested in observing as much as riding, that might be enough. The parking lot is free.
Food situation: You may bring food inside the park; a snack bar is available; very little shaded seating.
Location: Concord

Pier 39 in San Francisco

pier 39 carousel at night
Pier 39 Carousel | Photo: Pier 39

Description: Call it a tourist trap or call it an amusement park — Pier 39 has a carousel, a bungee trampoline, a seated virtual roller coaster/video game, and a thrill ride called the Bay Plunge, plus several other attractions. (You can see the sea lions for free!)

Best ages: Grade schoolers and above.
Prices: Each activity is priced separately: Macgowan’s Mirror Maze is $10, for example. CityPass is a bundled pricing pass that gives you 9 days to visit a bunch of San Francisco attractions, including a couple at Pier 39. Check that out here >
Food situation: There are restaurants at Pier 39 and it is a public space where you can bring your own food.
Location: San Francisco

Small World Park, Pittsburg

girl and ferris wheel
Athena is excited to be at Small World Park in Pittsburg | Photo: William Munny

Description: Another wee park for little ones that offers some charm with oversized trees and green spaces to play beyond the rides.

Best ages: Toddlers to age 7
Prices: Rides are included in the admission fee of $3 for kids and $6 for adults
Food situation: Bring your own food!
Location: Pittsburg, CA

California’s Great America, Santa Clara

Kids at Great America in Santa Clara
California’s Great America has rides for every age | Photo: Whitney Moss

Description: This mega park has thrill rides, carnival games, a kiddie area, and a full-scale waterpark in the summer!

  • Our review of California’s Great America.
  • Their website to check current hours and rates. Open 7 days per week for summer hours until August 14.

Best ages: Grade school
Prices: Admission fees claim to be $70 full price at the door, but there are always discounts online. As of this writing their website offers a $39.99 per person. Includes admission to the waterpark.
Food situation: No outside food or beverages.
Location: Santa Clara, CA

TrainTown Railroad, Sonoma

mom and kids riding roller coaster
That’s me enjoying the coaster and my 3-year-old not | Photo: Julie Herson

Description: TrainTown’s central feature is a 20-minute train ride that runs around the perimeter of the park, stopping to allow passengers to feed goats. There are a handful of other rides, including the roller coaster shown above.

  • Our review of TrainTown
  • Their website to check current hours and rates. Open 7 days per week for summer hours until August 13.

Best ages: 10 and under
Prices: There is no admission fee, but rather tickets for the carousel, airplane ride, roller coaster, and Ferris wheel. The train has a separate ticket schema – it’s $9.75 per person to ride.
Food situation: No outside food and beverages.
Location: Sonoma, CA

Happy Hollow Park & Zoo, San Jose

Happy Hollow Park & Zoo | Photo: Whitney Moss

Description: Happy Hollow is a lovely combination of Zoo and Amusement Park for little ones.  There are animal exhibits, including a petting area, engaging climbing and exploration areas, and rides! A couple of the rides have no height minimum, so if your little one can sit up unassisted, they can ride!

Best ages: 7 and under
Prices: Admission is $18 and there is no extra fee for rides, which makes it much cheaper than the Oakland Zoo! Babies 0-2 are free. Parking is $10.
Food situation: No outside food and beverages.
Location: San Jose, CA

Santa Cruz Boardwalk, Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz Boardwalk
Santa Cruz Boardwalk | Photo: Whitney Moss

Description: The Santa Cruz Boardwalk is right on the beach in Santa Cruz, and you can combine a beach day with a few rides, or flip it and call it an amusement park day with a lunch break on the beach. It can get really crowded, so check the hours and go right when it opens. Expect to wait in lines – snacks help!

Best ages: 5 and up. There are some toddler rides, but it’s more fun for kids who can walk the length of the boardwalk.
Prices: You can load points on a card to pay for rides a la carte or get an all-you-can-ride-for-the-day wristband ($55 for weekdays; $65 on weekends)
Parking is $30 on weekends and $20 on weekdays. There’s also a free shuttle from a free parking lot at the Santa Cruz Government Center every half-hour. It’s a 7-minute ride. You might find street parking and spend less but you’ll need $1 coins, available at change machines around the area.
Food situation: Many food stands sell carnival-style food or bring your own.
Location: Santa Cruz, CA

Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park, Gilroy

Gilroy Gardens theme park
The rides at Gilroy Gardens celebrate local produce | Photo: Whitney Moss

Description: I love that Gilroy Gardens has the phrase “theme park” in its name because it has an adorable theme. The agricultural specialties of the area – strawberries, garlic, and artichokes – are all represented in rides in this amusement park for young children. There’s a delightful train ride, a bunch of rides for young children, and a fabulous water play area that’s worth the 2-hour drive from Berkeley!

Note: It can get really hot in Gilroy. Check the weather!

Best ages: 7 and under
Prices: Admission is $65 when you buy tickets online in advance. Kids under 3 are free. Parking is $20 online or $25 at the gate.
Food situation: Outside food can be eaten at the picnic tables outside the gate. Inside there are food vendors. Snacks for babies and toddlers are permitted.
Location: Gilroy, CA not far from Santa Cruz

More fun things to ride around the Bay Area

Yes, there’s more! Here’s a round-up of carousels to add to your bucket list, and here’s a guide to train rides. Finally, we don’t think the Oakland Zoo is best described as an amusement park, but there are just as many rides as some of the smaller places mentioned.

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